You've Got to Pick a Path'

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Stephen Fung reprises his role from Gen-X Cops for Benny Chan's sequel Gen-Y Cops currently playing in Asia. He talked with TIME Asia entertainment correspondent Stephen Short about those projects, his rapid rise in local cinema and the restrictive Hong Kong entertainment culture. Edited excerpts: TIME: Why's Gen-Y Cops better than Gen-X Cops, or isn't it?Fung: I think the characters are a little more developed this time. You know, the first time a lot of us as actors were all pretty green and the characters as individuals weren't quite developed in that first movie. This time it's different. TIME: So why was the first one such a big success in that case?Fung: I think it's the fact that for a while people hadn't seen new faces, little actors doing big budget films in Hong Kong. I don't think the audience had seen this approach for a while. And it was targeted so much toward a young crowd. This one is action all the way. Action, jokes, action, jokes, all set in Hong Kong. TIME: Will there be Gen-Z Cops?Fung: I don't think so. For me, no. I've had great fun, but anymore would be pointless. Perhaps they'll be another in two years when we're no longer young, but for me, it's over. I'm 26 now. I don't feel young. TIME: What's your next project?Fung: A new Corey Yuen project. In The Name of Heroes which comes out in summer and it has about 1000 special effects. It's very martial arts and special effects. You know what though? I want to take a month or so off anyway. I'd like to go back to my college town to hang out for a while. Get some pancakes and relax. You know, guys like Johnny Depp can make one movie a year and everybody thinks that's fine. But if people in Hong Kong don't see you for a month they want to know what's happened. You keep working and working and working. I've done four films this year. You don't stop unless you want to quit this business. TIME: Are you conscious of how much you've improved as an actor? All the directors I talk with tell me your rise has been quite dramatic?Fung: That's nice to hear. I would like to branch out more. Do different styles. I want to polish up as an actor. TV sometimes helps that way. TVB is like a Shaolin Temple for actors. You go in there green and come out feeling you've touched up all your rough edges. I still have a film contract with Wong Kar-wai, we signed it a couple of years back but he's been so busy doing In The Mood For Love, so whenever he's ready, I'm ready. TIME: What do you think of Bishonen now, your first lead role. It dealt with some pretty controversial themes?Fung: People in Hong Kong generally are very uptight about issues like homosexuality. I always remember how they promoted the film. It wasn't promoted as a gay film, more as a young love story. The poster was misleading. It didn't look gay. Looking back I thought it was a great experience. I made a lot of gay friends making that movie.TIME: It's almost impossible to be experimental here in Hong Kong isn't it. That's what your friend Nicholas Tse told me?Fung: That's one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor. I was doing these typical TV shows, music idol stuff. But Nick, he's still singing. Music-wise, to be experimental is quite difficult. TIME: What's the most interesting Hong Kong movie you've seen in the last year?Fung: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. For Chinese people, Hong Kong-born, we've seen all the kung-fu movies there are to see so to get amused and inspired, so to sit there and be able to say, 'Oh my god' at some of the scenes, says a lot about it. And Zhang Ziyi is really good. I thought Zhang Yimou's Not One Less was really, really brilliant too. I also think there should be a Charlie's Angels-type movie made in Hong Kong. Call it Jackie's Angels or something. There are times you just want to go to the cinema and not think too much and Charlie's Angels was great for that. TIME: Your good mates with Karen Mok aren't you?Fung: I think most of all she is a fantastic actress and singer. There are actresses who try really hard, but for her it's more natural, more instinctive. Have you seen her in concert? She's a natural performer. Very sensual. TIME: Has the Hong Kong market changed in the few years you've been back here? Fung: This year it's following what's happening in Japan. No matter how famous you get, you still do TV series. That's happening everywhere. In Japan a lot of the famous actors don't do film. Here it's more popular that way too. Guys like Andy Lau, Stephen Chow are doing TV. Personally, I still feel films are more prestigious. TIME: How did you get into TV?Fung: As a kid, I did drama clubs and stuff. When I was 14, there was a TV movie by Warner Brothers called Forbidden Nights and the casting director came to our school [German-Swiss international school] so I did four days on the set and that got me interested. TIME: What did they pay you?Fung: Really well. I got $500US per day. And that was 1988. Then I graduated from University of Michigan with a Batchelor of Arts and came back to do cameo roles. At that point, I would get HK$500 per day and was quite upset about it... and getting yelled at! TIME: Sounds like the record companies in Hong Kong.Fung: Yeah. It's a factory. Especially if you're a singer. TIME: That's what Nick [Nicholas Tse] said.Fung: That's why I chose not to do music. I'd do two Cantonese and Mandarin albums per year, then you'd do promotions, then movies. That's why Nick doesn't want to act. You've got to pick a path. TIME: Why is there no band culture in Hong Kong, Nick had thoughts about that, what are yours?Fung: I was in a band once. We were put together -- I thought as a band -- but as it turned out, it was more of an idol approach. The band thing in Hong Kong is just a cover up. There were only two of us but we were promoted as individuals, just two guys who happen to be a band. Other than LMF, I don't see one promising band in Hong Kong. I've known the guys in LMF for years. The bass player used to be a salesperson at Tom Lee in Causeway Bay. They've paid more dues than anyone here. Go to pubs in Tsim Sha Tsui and everybody's listening to LMF. I grew up listening to stuff like Metallica. When I formed a band in Hong Kong I had those hopes. But as it turned out, it's a whole different story. It's pure packaging. For instance, when I buy a CD I buy it for the music, not the photos, the shampoos, the cash coupons, the t-shirts. All I want is a CD. TIME: The packaging can be so tacky as well. I was always amazed Karen Mok got away with being naked on a cover about six years ago?Fung: With Karen she's already exceptional. I think the industry needs more people like her, daring to experiment, and more record companies supporting that. I think she could still get away with it now. Her last concerts in Taiwan were like Madonna when she was wearing the basques. People want more of that stuff. When we were shooting album covers for Dry, my previous band, we picked out blurry photos and stuff and the record company would never allow us to use them. They just wanted big face shots. TIME: Would it make you and Nick and others want to run record companies and make them more liberal.Fung: I think Andy Lau is trying to do that now. An actor turning into a boss would think differently which would have to be a good thing, they'd experiment more. I hope so anyway.